Is There Solidarity Across Colors?
For generations, people of color have nurtured divides created by white systems. Faced with common oppressors, is solidarity a pipe dream?
I don’t really consider myself to have existed on Earth for the first eleven-or-so years of my life. I spent way too much time up in my head to be considered a true habitant of this planet. My imagination ran so wild it bled into reality’s every waking moment. Fascinated by the wonders of the unexplored and unexplainable, myths became my truths and truths were meant to be reimagined.
As I got older, these myths never really went away—they simply adapted to appease my ever-changing perceptions of the world I’d been forced to enter. Instead of believing in mermaids, I believed that I would wake up early to study for a test that I’d been putting off. Both were equally unlikely to occur, no matter how much I wanted them to. Everyday, I learned more and more things that I eventually learned how to quickly classify myths or truths.
But as I sift through and decide my stance on each human phenomenon, there is one that consistently disrupts my seamless decision process: the ability to achieve true solidarity between people of color in America.
Unlikely to occur, no matter how much I wanted it to. Hadn’t that been my definition of a myth? For a long time, it seemed to fit the criteria. Thinking about this made me want to escape Earth and retreat to the mythical land of my mind for a little while longer, where I could pretend such a thing could exist, and I wouldn’t feel so isolated in my Blackness. Recent events seem to only exacerbate my disappointing conclusion. Following the hate crime that tragically led to the deaths of eight people in metro Atlanta, six of them being Asian women—and the subsequent strengthening of the Stop Asian Hate movement—some Black Americans began questioning if these initiatives deserved their support.
Racking up 34.2k likes and 11k retweets as of March 25th, 2021, @SexyUnderHere on Twitter says, “The Asian community has never stood by the Black community. Just stay quiet like they do to us. I hate that we go to lengths to defend others.”
I’ve begun to question where this mindset comes from, and who it’s truly benefitting. But in order to find out if solidarity between people of color could be a truth, I had to dive deeper into the land of myths.
Specifically, I investigated how the “model minority” myth had been used to weaponize communities of color against each other in America. After centuries of strategic stereotypes and discriminatory policies, Asian-Americans have been crafted by white institutions into a perceived “model” for other American minorities and immigrants to strive for. Following the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, the United States lifted their anti-Asian immigration policies but allowed only the most educated, elite professionals to enter. However, like many immigrants today, some Asian professionals were unable to actually practice their careers due to discrepancies in certification requirements, leaving them to find other working class jobs. However, these Asian immigrants’ children were typically expected to follow the same path of higher-education and obtained professional careers as their parents did in their home countries.
Learn more about the the The Finch's coverage of the model minority myth by checking out Will Fang's "Forever Hyphenated," or listening to our previous episode with Dr. Timothy Yang, Professor of East Asian History.
This narrow perception observed by white-American society ultimately fostered stereotypes of all Asians being obedient, strict, wealthy, and extremely studious in science and math, which they began using as an excuse to discredit and shame the hardships of African Americans.
Suddenly, the rhetoric largely centered around: “Asians are successful and they’re not white either, so what’s your excuse? Black people just aren’t hard working or value education like Asian people do.” Unsurprisingly, this festered generations of institutionally manufactured division, animosity, and bitter competition between the Asian community and Black community, as well as other people of color in America.
But it also perpetuated harm within the Asian community. Poor immigrants from Asian countries are expected to fulfill the stereotypes already running rampant in America, and failure to do so has resulted in social rejection. The model minority myth also erases the racism that Asians experience, normalizing microaggressions, xenophobia, cultural appropriation, and homogenizing the wide spectrum of Asian experiences, leaving American society desensitized to the violence and discrimination that Asian people undoubtedly face.
I can honestly say that before I educated myself, I also harbored these internalized biases created by the model minority myth. At my school district, the population is roughly 60% white and 35% Asian. That last 5% is the “rest of us” — including Black, LatinX, and Native students. Because of this, I lived in a unique little bubble where Asian people seemed more like a majority to me, than the minority that they actually are. The girl on my track team that said — “Black people are only good at running because they have so much practice running from the cops.” — was Asian. Offhand comments about elite institutions “lowering their academic standards” after I got into Harvard as a Black girl, were made by Asians. I’ve seen screenshots of group chats where the N-word is frequently used by Asian students in order to gain social clout.
I began perceiving Asian people in terms of their proximity to whiteness, and generalized the individual harm I experienced onto the entire community, as if they couldn’t experience racism themselves if some of them were racist towards me. It seems that many other Black people might think the same way.
But of course, this mindset is a myth in itself. So what is the truth?
I believe it is this: we are all capable and culpable of causing harm. Anti-Black racism, stereotypes, and complicity in the face of injustice are all pervasive phenomena in Asian communities—this must not be ignored in our nuanced approach towards unity, but effectively dismantled. Likewise, I’ve become increasingly aware of the harmful jokes and stereotypes, as well as resentment and racial gaslighting towards Asian people that continuously run unchecked in Black communities. Both of these truths are the side-effects of the model minority myth, which was created as a weapon of white supremacy to deflect our struggles against oppressive systems onto competition with each other instead. Who are we really benefiting when we fuel this mindset?
For generations, people of color have nurtured divides caused by subconscious hostilities urged upon us by white systems.
We’ve allowed these manufactured myths to control and shape our cultures, repeating the actions of our oppressors instead of organizing around our shared experiences in order to achieve collective liberation from white supremacy.
Right now, Asian-Americans are scared. Fearful of what will happen when their loved ones step into the world everyday. I am no stranger to that painful feeling. I’ve been telling my dad to keep his hood down in public since I was twelve years old. At the end of the day, none of us are white and we never will be. However, we also cannot deny that stating this simple fact is not enough, and tends to erase the individual hardships of each community, which is why “People of Color” (POC), has been rightfully extended to “Black, Indigenous, People of Color” (BIPOC). In order to achieve true solidarity between people of color in America, we must instead do the work to unlearn internalized biases and spend time figuring out how to stand by each other in a productive way. Reflect on shared experiences, as well as the ones unique to each group. Advocate for our fellow humans. Recognize the cooperative radical efforts that paved the way. Whether it’s African Americans protesting the Vietnam War, or Asian-Americans taking a knee during Black Lives Matter protests in summer of 2020.
Especially in light of the Stop Asian Hate movement, the question inevitably floats back into my endless spectrum of myths and truths: Is solidarity between people of color unlikely to occur, no matter how much I want it to?
I know now that the answer is no. I don’t have to retreat into the mythical land of my mind for this to exist. And so, I carefully slide it over onto the side of truth, knowing that it won’t be easy, but willing to do the work anyway.
Mariah Norman is a freshman at Harvard University studying Government. She writes about race and justice.
Cover: Mandel Ngan/AFP